"I haven't even left yet and they're trying to erase us."
Otto Anderson is a cantankerous older man living in a snowbound metropolis where he is the only one he can depend on. Argumentative and rude to his core, Otto is disliked by just about everyone. He's lived what many perceive to be a secluded life in a neighborhood begging for change. Determined to live out his days wallowing in his own unkindness, Otto needs a miracle if he ever wants to be happy in his chosen world of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"A Man Called Otto" stars Tom Hanks in the titular role, based on the novel and Swedish film adaptation entitled A Man Called Ove. Hanks takes on the lead part of a grumpy old man, not too dissimilar to that of Clint Eastwood's curmudgeon in 2008's "Gran Torino." But like Eastwood's movie, Hanks is stuck in a role that sees his nature as an actor tested. He's typically not cast as a mean person, as Hanks has cultivated an acting career that sees him as one of America's finest and lovable talents. Otto is a new type of character for Hanks, and it's a welcome retreat from the past 20 years of performances that saw him coasting on his authentic skills as an actor.
Flashbacks in director Marc Forster's "A Man Called Otto" reveals a lot of Otto's character, including his romance at a young age with Sonya. Sonya becomes his wife, and they buy a home in the neighborhood Otto resides in long after her death. Otto also attempted a stint in the U.S. Army but could not get medical clearance due to a genetic heart condition inherited from his deceased father. These flashbacks serve as explanations for why Otto is who he is in the present, and they account for the way in which he lives his life.
Reluctant to try new technology and simultaneously embracing a bygone era of cars and fixing things with your bare hands, Otto is depicted as the most stubborn man on planet Earth. When he's not yelling at cashiers and cats, Otto tries to dodge new neighbors and a company hellbent on buying his house to bulldoze. In a neighborhood on the brink of change, Otto Anderson is the only barrier to making that change a reality.
In moments when Otto is helping new neighbors with mundane tasks like learning how to drive or fix something in their house, the character becomes slightly tolerable. His patience wears thin, but he's driven by an inner dialogue of morality and gumption, qualities he believes every human should possess. With his refusal to fade into the background, Otto makes strides with those around him, and he begins to reclaim his love for life.
The town where Otto lives has a snowy setting throughout much of the film, which sets the tone for Otto's icy disposition. While he doesn't rely on others for anything, he slowly matures into a gentleman of sorts towards the latter part of the film. Can Otto battle his past in time to make his present worth living?
"A Man Called Otto" is a B-list version of "Gran Torino," but it contains a lot of unique qualities that set it apart from similar content. For one, Hanks' portrayal of Otto is not racist in any way, which makes him a bit more lovable despite his mean demeanor. Otto also develops into a local hero by doing what others won't during a crucial juncture, which comes back to haunt him in various ways. However, in these moments, Tom Hanks truly shines as an actor, making a case for "A Man Called Otto" being the actor's best performance in decades.
There is a moment in the chaos of "A Man Called Otto" where Otto Anderson begins to break down while he listens to the country song "Til You're Home" by David Hodges. Flashbacks swirl, revealing tender moments with Otto's wife, Sonya. The audience gets a glimpse of the man he once was. It's a wonderfully crafted scene that Tom Hanks makes his own and gives way to the rest of the movie in a delicate manner. His weakness becomes our strength as we get the chance to watch a man transform, even when he's at the tail-end of his life.
If not for Tom Hanks, "A Man Called Otto" might be a boring tale of one grumpy man's perseverance against the elements trying to take him down. But it's because of Hanks that the film succeeds. The movie is a peek into the timeline of one man, the woman he loves, and the family he chooses along the way. In the end, Otto's life is worth living, and his vulgarity begins to shrink as he makes his mark on those around him.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟1/2